I’ve been puzzling for a while over Eve’s sudden turn against “sincerism.” I may be feeling a tad defensive because about 90% of my blog posts could be called sincerist, and outside of that I participate in two of the most sincerist businesses out there — newspaper reporting and psychotherapy. Still, I think I understand what she means, but what I don’t understand is packaging it as an “ism” to be globally opposed. What oppressive body out there is mandating sincerism in any and all situations? It seems telling somehow that the first example she supplies is not from any social hegemon but from a fringe subculture.
I think that’s the main problem, actually: most of what she describes as alternatives to sincerism (irony, jokes, allusions, exaggeration, unspoken understandings, secret-keeping etc.) are simply the sort of things subcultures do that sail past the heads of outsiders. They’re things you either “get” or you don’t. Which is fine, but to oppose efforts to penetrate that as unacceptably “sincerist” — however leaden and clueless such efforts may sometimes be — seems to be foreclosing any real communication between groups. Whenever I try to think of examples to illustrate whether sincerism or its opposite (insincerism?) is better, the answer always seems to be “It depends.”
Eve’s comments about realism vs. genre reminded me of an essay I stumbled across on the Web a few years ago, about Stephen King’s Misery. The author, Zack Handlen, describes how the novel connected to his own childhood experience of being babysat by a mentally unstable woman. “Misery is one of the only stories I’ve read or seen that manages to bring me back to that sickly awful feeling I’d get every time I walked in Aunt Cathy’s front door, the way I became overly conscious of my heartbeat- too fast? too loud?- as I took off my shoes and set them neatly under the coat rack, always facing in, always with the laces under the tongue,” he writes.
Now, in a literal sense, there’s a huge difference between Handlen’s experience and King’s novel. King’s protagonist was imprisoned and tortured; “Aunt Cathy” only had Handlen for a few hours a day, and never physically abused him. But this is one of those things that fiction can do that reportage can’t. Reporting the facts, even if you try to arrange them narratively, is always looking at things from the outside; it can’t tell you what it’s like to actually be that little kid. The over-the-top nature of the horror genre actually, in a way, is what makes it most realistic.
On the other hand, Handlen’s essay is itself a primo example of sincerism, and it’s all the better for it. I haven’t read Misery, because personally I’m not that into Stephen King. But I appreciate the value of the novel because of the essay, and am less able now to dismiss stories like that as just thrill seeking. I don’t think the essay somehow displaces or “explains” the novel; rather, it is one reader’s description of how he participated in the novel’s larger truth.
I think Eve realizes this to some degree by acknowledging (apologetically) that her own anti-sincerist post is itself terribly sincerist. But that illustrates precisely what sincerism is good for. How else can you explain sincerism to someone who doesn’t get what it is, except sincerely? If you are not willing to indulge it at least sometimes you will end up talking to no one but yourself.